Chipotle’s Answer

“Do farmworkers deserve to be treated as human beings?” Shona Clarkson asks in a piece for Wiretapmag.

“For Chipotle Mexican Grill, the jury is still out. The grim reality of Florida agriculture today — crushing poverty for farmworkers and multiple convictions for slavery — contrasts glaringly with the progressive rhetoric of ‘Food with Integrity.’ This is the slogan used by Chipotle, a burrito chain rapidly settling in university towns across the country, to pitch its supposedly supply-chain-conscious fare. The ugly contradiction has triggered notice by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), a community-based group of predominantly Guatemalan, Mexican and Haitian workers in South Florida.”

For years, the CIW has publicly called on Chipotle to enact a meaningful code of conduct to protect the rights of farmworkers in its supply chain. While the CIW has secured similar agreements with other fast food giants — among them McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, KFC and Pizza Hut — Chipotle refuses to act. Instead, Chipotle LP Director Tim Spong told a CIW delegation last month that his company had “studied the issue and determined… what is best for them.”

Chipotle’s determination that they, rather than Florida farmworkers, know what’s best for tomato pickers was a difficult pill to swallow for CIW who responded by camping out in front of Chipotle’s corporate headquarters.

Sadly, Chipotle’s paternalism, and its efforts at ignoring the humanity of those mistreated in its supply chain, are nothing new to CIW. The organization’s 15-year history is punctuated with efforts by farmworkers to demand that those who oppress them recognize their humanity, and afford them the basic rights they deserve. Despite federal laws to protect workers, Florida tomato pickers receive no benefits whatsoever, and their wages have not risen substantially in 30 years.

This past April, the CIW testified before a US Senate committee about how growers, the industry term for farm owners, view farmworkers. The CIW told lawmakers the following story: After a 30-day hunger strike in 1997 staged to demand dialogue with growers about the violence and poverty afflicting Florida’s fields, one grower was asked why growers still — even after a fasting farmworker was forced to admit himself to a hospital for medical care — refused to talk with workers. The grower replied, “Let me explain it to you this way: A tractor does not tell the grower how to run his farm.”

Clarkson makes a good point in her piece: “While some foods are lauded as ‘sustainable,’ they actually reinforce a system that benefits the few while maintaining an abusive, exploitative reality for others. Many in the larger sustainable food movement challenge the exclusion of farmworkers’ human rights from the idea of ‘sustainability.’

Shona Clarkson, 19, is president of Latin American Solidarity at the University of Kansas in Lawrence and an active member of Lawrence Fair Food, read the entire piece at Wiretapmag here.

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